Recently, our own Amber Spears was included in a Bridge Magazine article about pay equality in Michigan for women professionals. Because of this article and many others in recent months about the lack of women in STEM careers, we have been highlighting some of the successful women professionals at NTH Consultants, Ltd. to get insight into how they chose their career path and to garner advice for future female engineers. Amber was naturally our choice for one of our Q & A posts; below are some questions we asked Amber about her life and career decisions along with her responses.
What was your favorite subject(s) high school?
While I was good at science and math, my favorite subjects were English and Geography.
When did you know you were interested in engineering?
I joined Detroit Area Pre College Engineering Program (DAPCEP) in middle school and we worked on science fair projects for city-wide competitions. I stayed in the club throughout high school and participated in science programs at The University of Detroit Mercy on Saturdays and a summer engineering academy at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I enjoyed meeting new people the most but it was also cool to do things like make ethanol or build a contraption to keep eggs from cracking when they crash into a wall
What was it that piqued your interest?
I learned I could help people through Civil Engineering. After my senior year of high school I learned that civil engineers were responsible for the levees breaching during Hurricane Katrina and that was one of the first Civil Engineering Failures that I learned of. It made me recognize that this is an important field that affects the lives of many.
Did you have any mentors?
I didn’t really have a formal mentor. I was influenced a lot by my geometry teacher, Mr. Barina, who got me interested in Civil Engineering. I also joined DAPCEP with my cousin, Taylor, and we supported each other in the program. The teachers in the Summer Engineering Academy were a great support to us.
Did you face any resistance from family or friends about your career choice?
No, all of my friends and family were very supportive with my career choice.
Did you entertain any other career possibilities? If so, what and why didn’t you go that route?
I always wanted to be a judge but after I received a scholarship to go to The University of Michigan for engineering I felt that was God telling me that’s where I needed to be.
Where did you go to college? Why?
I have a Master of Science, Civil/Geotechnical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin and a Bachelor of Science, Civil/Environmental Engineering from the University of Michigan where I was part of College of Engineering’s first Michigan Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (MSTEM) Program.
They were both critical in shaping my ideas about the type of work engineers could do and the social lives they can have. While most days I felt like I was training to be a neurosurgeon with the hours I was putting in, I realized that engineers can lead balanced lives if they really put forth the effort to be organized.
How/why did you choose NTH?
I needed an internship and my college mentor, Ms. Tarolyn Buckles, suggested NTH as a good opportunity for me. After my internship I was offered a position as a staff engineer. I have now held that position for a little over a year.
What do you do at NTH and what do you like most about your job?
I work mostly with construction inspection such as material, density and concrete testing. I conduct instrumentation readings at landfill sites, geotechnical investigations, borehole drilling and analyzing soil. I am hoping to get into more of the pre-construction phases of projects on the geotechnical and structural sides in preparation for my Professional Engineering Licensure.
What is your favorite project you’ve worked on as an engineer?
My favorite project was the Taylor Basin project for Wayne County in 2014. We were hired to inspect the north wall of the basin that failed and caused storm water and sewer water to flood a nearby part of I-94. This was my first real sense of responsibility on a site as the field engineer – it was a larger role than I had previously filled. I was tasked with representing the client and communicated with the contractor, subcontractors, and the client. I was given a key to the facility and I had to report the daily activities that happened on the site. This is also one of the longest term projects that I got to work on. I like seeing the bigger picture of the project and not just the daily tasks.
What advice would you give girls who are interested in engineering and related fields?
Girls have a lot of opportunities now, yet there is still room for improvement. They should explore all of their options, talk to others in the field, and join groups to see if they can grow their interests. They should not worry if they are not interested in fields that are traditionally held by women, and not feel ashamed if someone calls them a “bookworm” or “nerd”. They should also not feel discouraged if they solve engineering problems differently than their peers, because they may have a different perspective that adds value to solving the problem.
They should also continue to thrive in other areas outside of engineering and learn to be a team player – this can help them become more well-rounded and will help in their engineering career. I would also tell girls that engineering can be, and is, fun! I love to share STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) with kids and tell them what I do. It tickles me when I hear girls say “Wow! She’s an engineer!”